Air of uncertainty surrounds Trump on Inauguration Day
President Donald Trump's Inauguration in Washington D.C. on Jan. 20, 2017.
On the eve of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, America’s biggest question seems to be, “What comes next?”
“I think one of the biggest things I’ve seen in the people I’ve talked to is there’s a lot more uncertainty with him than we’ve seen before,” said Stephen Gilliland, former executive director of the Eller College of Management’s Center for Leadership Ethics.
Gilliland’s area of expertise focuses on health care, a hot topic as a Republican-controlled Congress prepares to repeal Barack Obama’s health care law.
“There’s just absolutely enormous uncertainty in the world of health care right now,” Gilliland said. “And I think that’s just a microcosm of the uncertainty across the country.”
He referred to some of the country’s more pressing issues from the campaign trail such as immigration and global trade agreements, which also maintain an air of uncertainty as Trump takes office. Much of this uncertainty is tied to Trump’s inconsistency in what he says, what he does and what his cabinet says.
According to Gilliland, that lack of consistency can have adverse effects on the perception of Trump’s integrity. Most politicians, he said, go out of their way to be consistent.
“We appear to have a president-elect who has no interest or worry about being inconsistent,” he said. “That I think could lead to problems with perceptions of integrity.”
Gilliland related Trump’s behavior as a politician to leadership practices in the private sector, in which successful business leaders are often rewarded for quick, instinctual, gut-based decision-making.
“In politics, it’s almost the opposite,” he said.
The difference Gilliland points to is the disparity in the decision-making process between the public and private sectors. In conjunction with the difficulty of fingering Trump’s policy, this poses a problem for the American electorate in that many cannot be sure of Trump’s agenda.
“I think that’s what a lot of people have been struggling with,” Gilliland said. “It’s unclear what his positions are and what his likely actions are going to be.”
Suzanne Dovi, an associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy, pointed to Trump’s inconsistency as one of the major differences between Trump and past presidents.
“He’s constantly contradicting himself,” she said. “He appoints cabinet members that disagree with his views.”
Dovi said in past administrations even if people disagreed with the president’s politics, at least they knew what to expect.
“I think one of the reasons why there’s so much uncertainty and fear about his administration is because we have no past record to judge him by,” Dovi said. “He really is an unknown.”
She said this allows voters a certain latitude of projecting their concerns and hopes on to Trump’s presidency. However, Dovi said, the reality is voters can’t be sure of the policies that will flow from Trump’s leadership.
Many seem to believe that Trump is perhaps the most unusual president we’ve elected in our country’s 241-year history. Experts cite his lack of political experience and his affinity for speaking directly to voters through social media, most notably Twitter, as behavior uncommon to past presidents.
Dovi’s colleague Samara Klar, an assistant professor in the School of Government and Public Policy, said while shifting political trends may be part of the explanation, most of it has to do with Trump himself.
“I think it has to do with how he is as a person,” she said. “I think it really speaks to his own personality.”
Klar pointed to Trump’s behavior during his career as a celebrity, in which he often took the lead on publicity by speaking for himself and contacting reporters directly. This behavior seems to have carried over into his political career as he bypasses the “filter of the mainstream media” in favor of 140-character announcements.
Klar and Dovi highlighted Trump’s lack of political experience and record-low approval ratings and percentage of the popular vote as some of the statistically unusual aspects of Trump’s entry into office.
Dovi wrote an article published Sunday, Jan. 14 on the online philosophy website The Critique called “Name-Brand Populism: Donald Trump’s Political Legacy.”
In the article, Dovi refers to Trump’s conduct as “an unhealthy alliance between America’s consumerism and its populism.”
According to Dovi, Trump's focus on his political brand has led to voters to "shop" for their preferences. In Trump's case, someone who is going to shake up the political elite.
“I think that there is a lot of economic anxiety and frustration among the American people with government,” she said. “So as a result I think we see that people want to be independent; they don’t want to have any political party identification.”
Dovi said this represents an impression of corruption among political elites by the American people highlighting parallels to Obama’s election during which he ran on a platform of hope and change.
She said the difference with Trump is people discouraged with a lack of political power have now turned to those with economic power.
“The forgotten men and women of the United States, the people who really feel left behind with globalization and have justifiable concerns for that, are willing to endorse anyone to just even get recognition,” Dovi said. “Even to get a tweet.”
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